Dutch Kills Swing Bridge

Dutch Kills Swing Bridge
Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, 2008

Crosses: Dutch Kills
Location: Long Island City, Queens [satellite map]
Carries: 1 freight track (Long Island Railroad)
Design: (former) swing bridge, now fixed into place
Date opened: 1893

The Dutch Kills Swing Bridge was built by the Long Island Railroad as part of its Montauk Branch in 1893. Located in the southern part of Long Island City, it crosses the Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek.

Dutch Kills and the Growth of Long Island City

As discussed in the history of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, the land surrounding Dutch Kills (“kills” is “creek” in Dutch) was originally marshland. The area’s first European settlement was in 1642 by Richard Bruntall, who owned 100 acres of land on the eastern side of Dutch Kills where it meets Newtown Creek [1]. To the west lay an area purchased by minister Dominie Everardus Bogardus for use by the Dutch Reformed Church called Dominie’s Hoek (Hook). In 1664 it became part of the Town of Newtown and later was given to British sea captain George Hunter. It was renamed Hunters Point in 1825. Both Hunters Point and the area surrounding Dutch Kills remained quiet farmland and estates until the 1840s, when industry began to grow on Newtown Creek. The railroads arrived in the 1850s, and industrialization continued. In 1870, Astoria, Ravenswood, and Steinway incorporated with Hunters Point to form Long Island City. Both Newtown Creek and Dutch Kills were used heavily by factories and other businesses located on their banks necessitating the construction of a number of movable bridges.

The Railroads and Hunters Point

The Hunters Point area of Long Island City has a long history as a transportation hub. As New York City expanded, so did the need for commuting. Before bridges and tunnels connected Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey, passengers relied on ferries to cross the East and Hudson Rivers, often directly linking to railroads continuing to points further afield. In 1854, the Hunters Point Terminal was opened by the Flushing Railroad. It was the first railroad to operate in Long Island other than the Long Island Railroad (founded in 1834) and ran from the Hunters Point waterfront where Newtown Creek empties into the East River to Flushing, Queens. The ferry followed soon after the railroad: from 1858 until its closure in 1925, the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry crossed the East River between Manhattan’s east side and the Hunters Point Terminal. The Flushing Railroad was reorganized in 1859 as the New York and Flushing Railroad. Hunters Point continued to grow, and by 1873 two additional railroads had moved in: the Flushing, North Shore and Central Railroad and the South Side Railroad both constructed terminals. By 1884 all the railroads had been merged into the Long Island Railroad. Passengers could travel via the Lower Montauk Branch across the Dutch Kills to Penny Bridge (which provided access to Calvary Cemetery) and points further east.

Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, 2011
Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, 2011

C.C. Schneider’s Bridges

The first rail crossing of the Dutch Kills opened in 1854 along with the railroad; no information about it was found. The expanding Long Island Railroad replaced it with a two-track swing bridge in 1880. The bridge was designed by the German-born American civil engineer Charles Conrad (C.C.) Schneider. Schneider later wrote that the span opened, but with difficulty:

It occurred to the writer that a bridge which is to be used as a fixed span, but must be designed so it can be opened, should meet, in the first place, the conditions most desirable in a permanent structure, viz., when closed it should be practically a fixed span, resting on substantial supports, which, however, could be removed if it should become necessary to open the bridge. This, to the writer’s knowledge, was the first swing bridge where wedges were used as supports at the center. The arrangements for operating the wedges was very crude. [2]

The wedge design for swing bridges never caught on, but Schneider continued to build bigger, more well-known bridges. In 1882, the Michigan Central Railroad asked him to submit a proposal for a bridge across the Niagara Gorge; his design for a two-track cantilever bridge was accepted and built the following year and came to be known as the Niagara Cantilever Bridge (it was replaced in 1924-5 by the Michigan Central Railway Bridge, of an arch design, which is abandoned but still standing). Also in 1883, he started his own civil engineering firm in New York City. In 1885 his design for an arch bridge across the Harlem River north of High Bridge was selected and opened in 1889 as the Washington Bridge. He partnered with the Pencoyd Iron Works in 1886. The company, founded in 1857 and located along the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, had started out making wrought iron but by that time had become a major supplier of steel for bridge building. Schneider, using Pencoyd steel, designed and built bridges for various railroads, among them the Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake and Ohio. He was an early engineer on an East River bridge proposed by the Long Island Railroad in 1893. Construction on that bridge started in 1895 but quickly ended due to a lack of funds–later the Blackwell’s Island Bridge was built (now known as the Queensboro Bridge) across the same stretch of the East River.

Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, 2008
Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, 2008

Current Bridge

While not nearly as high-profile as the Blackwell’s Island Bridge, Schneider designed another bridge in 1893: a replacement for his 1880 span across the Dutch Kills. The channel for boats was widened and demand to use the waterway was up, so the new swing bridge was larger, longer, and carried three (rather than two) railroad tracks. It was of a more modern swing design and, while providing little clearance above the water, it was capable of opening far faster than its predecessor. As was the case with its predecessor, the rail line was in use by both freight and passenger trains. It was operated from a tower called DB Tower south of the tracks on the west side of Dutch Kills.

Wheelspur Yard

A train yard which came to be known as the Wheelspur Yard was located on the western side of the creek and took up much of the land south of the tracks. It included a turntable and was used to store passenger trains. The yards were enlarged northward in 1903-4. During another yard expansion in 1915, DB Tower it was demolished and replaced by a small building on the east side of the creek, known as DB Cabin; the Dutch Kills Swing Bridge is also referred to by this name.

The East River Tunnels

The Long Island Railroad, despite its heavy use, continually failed to be profitable and the Pennsylvania Railroad bought a controlling interest in it in 1900 and began subsidizing it. Penn Station opened in 1910, along with its East River Tunnels, which meant that LIRR passengers could travel from Manhattan to Queens and Long Island directly by rail. The PRR had built Sunnyside Yard (northeast of Wheelspur Yard) to store its trains and much rail activity in the area moved there. In 1917 the East River Connecting Railroad (which includes Hell Gate Bridge) opened, meaning that passengers could leave Penn Station for points in the Bronx and as far north as Boston. Shortly after the opening of Penn Station, a connection between the Lower Montauk Branch and Sunnyside Yard was created, called the Montauk Cut-off. A Scherzer Rolling Lift bridge was built just north of the Dutch Kills Swing Bridge and was operated from Cabin M on the east bank of Dutch Kills.

Dutch Kills Swing Bridge and Newtown Creek, 2007
Dutch Kills Swing Bridge and Newtown Creek, 2007


Penn Station and all the changes it brought added up to a steep decline in use for the Lower Montauk Branch. The Thirty-fourth Street Ferry suffered such a loss of ridership that it shut down operation in 1925. By 1930, Wheelspur Yard was seldom used, though it was resurrected during the 1939-40 World’s Fair in Flushing and was then used for train storage by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The rail industry in general suffered after World War II and the struggling PRR stopped subsidizing the LIRR. The Long Island Railroad went into receivership in 1949 and was then subsidized by the State of New York. By 1959, the Pennsylvania Railroad had ceased to use Wheelspur Yard, and much of it was sold off and its tracks removed. In 1966, the LIRR was taken over by the newly-created state-funded Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (which changed its name to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968).

Dutch Kills Swing Bridge plaque
Dutch Kills Swing Bridge plaque

As use of the line decreased, tracks were removed; eventually only one track remained on the Dutch Kills Swing Bridge, but it was off-center. According to an account on LTV Squad, in the late 1980s an opening was attempted but failed because the bridge was unbalanced on its center pier. Emergency repairs were made and the single track was relocated to the center, but the bridge has remained in the closed position ever since. The New York and Atlantic Railway took over the LIRR’s freight operation in 1997 and continues to run freight trains over the route to this day. In 1998, LIRR trains stopped for the last time at five of the Lower Montauk’s stations: Penny Bridge, Haberman, Fresh Pond and Richmond Hill. Once-daily commuter service continued on the line out of Long Island City but had ended by 2013. The bridge is in a sorry state. Historical photos of it are hard to come by, but several images, such as those on Arrt’s Archives, from the 1950s and 1960s show it to have been painted black (many bridges were painted black during WWII). It has since been painted an off-white hue which has flaked off to the point where the bridge appears mottled: rust-brown overtaking lighter tones. The bridge’s northwest beam once bore a plaque that read “built by the Pencoyd Bridge & Construction Co / Pencoyd PA / 1893.” It is now broken and rusted, its lower half missing. (An intact plaque can be seen on a plaque located in Harpers Ferry.)

The Return of Wheelspur Yard

During the 1960s, another rail tunnel under the East River was proposed; it was eventually decided to build it at 63th Street and work began in 1969 on what would carry both subway (MTA) and commuter (LIRR) trains; the LIRR would then connect directly with Grand Central Station. Like other tunnel projects in New York City, work progressed slowly and costs continually rose. Construction was cancelled entirely in 1976, though a subway connection to Long Island City was later finished, opening in 1989. In 2007, work began on the East Side Access project which would complete the LIRR connection to Grand Central–it may be completed by 2023. The project has already had an impact on Long Island City, though (beyond the large construction area). Much of the land that was once Wheelspur Yard had been built upon in the years since its demise and housed various commercial tenants. Between 2010 and 2012, many of those tenants were evicted or otherwise forced out–the MTA had plans for the land. The East Side Access project had taken over most of the nearby Arch Street Yard, which LIRR’s freight tenant the New York and Atlantic had previously used. So, the MTA planned to rebuild Wheelspur Yard for the NY&A. Before all the buildings had vacated, however, Hurricane Sandy hit. On October 29, 2012, much of the low-lying former marshland was inundated with up to six feet of water. Remaining tenants suffered severe damage. The flood was followed by a fire in another building weeks later. The buildings were slated for destruction regardless, and those not destroyed by fire were demolished soon after.

In early April, 2015, freight cars began to return to Wheelspur Yard for the first time since the late 1950s. In June, Mitch Waxman noted on the Newtown Pentacle that the increased railroad activity meant that the drawbridges spanning Dutch Kills would likely be replaced. He says of the Dutch Kills Swing:

It’s not long for this world, as the LIRR and MTA are rekajiggering a bunch of their operations in LIC at the moment. The Wheelspur Yard actually has freight rail running through it again, for instance, and there’s been a lot of chatter about plans for the relict Montauk Cutoff tracks which has reached me recently. [3]

Just what the future holds for the Dutch Kills Swing Bridge remains uncertain. For now its rusting presence is a reminder of a time when the Dutch Kills and Newtown Creek were vital waterways and the railroads ruled over Long Island City.

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Midtown Bridge

Midtown Bridge from Oscar E. Olsen Park in Bogota, 2015
Midtown Bridge from Oscar E. Olsen Park in Bogota, 2015

Crosses: Hackensack River
Connects: Hackensack and Bogota, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 1 sidewalk
Design: (former) swing bridge, fixed into place in 1984
Date opened: 1900

The Midtown Bridge, also known as the Salem Street Bridge and William C. Ryan Memorial Bridge, is a fixed through truss bridge that was formerly a swing bridge. It spans the Hackensack River, connecting Hackensack and Bogota in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Midtown Bridge-03
Passaic Rolling Mill Co. founder’s mark on steel beam

The bridge was originally built in 1900 by F.R. Long and Company as a trolley bridge for the Bergen County Traction Company. Steel for the bridge was provided by the Passaic Rolling Mill Company of Paterson, NJ. The bridge’s original design was a through Pratt truss swing span on a stone center pier and it carried two sets of tracks. The Bergen County Traction Company had been formed in 1894, and opened in 1896, connecting ferry passengers traveling from Manhattan to Edgewater to trolley lines to Fort Lee, Leonia, Englewood, Teaneck, Bogota, and Hackensack. The lines were consolidated in 1900 into the New Jersey and Hudson River Railway Company and later sold to the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey in 1910. The Bergen Division of the Public Service Railway continued to carry trolleys over the Hackensack (a 1937 image can be seen in Figure 139 (page 189) of Streetcars of New Jersey: Metropolitan Northeast [1]).

However, with the rise of the automobile, transportation was changing, and trolley routes began to be replaced by buses. By 1938 all trolleys had been discontinued in Bergen County; the bridge’s tracks were replaced with a steel deck and in 1940 the Midtown Bridge began carrying vehicular traffic. It continued to operate as a swing bridge until a rehabilitation project in 1984, when it was fixed in place and its machinery was removed. In 1980, the bridge was given the additional name of “Ryan Memorial Bridge,” named after Bogota resident and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant William C. Ryan, who was killed in North Vietnam in 1969.

Steel deck, 2010
Steel deck, 2010
Ryan Memorial Bridge plaque
Ryan Memorial Bridge plaque

The Midtown Bridge has only recently been notable for being in need of repair. It was shut down for several weeks in 1998 by the Department of Public Works so that emergency repairs could be made to its steel joints. The issue was described by county engineer Robert Mulder as “an ongoing problem that needs to be permanently fixed” [2]; however, that fix has been continually delayed. A project to rehabilitate the Court Street Bridge, another former swing bridge in Hackensack downriver from the Midtown Bridge, meant that it was closed from 2010-2012, with much of the Court Street Bridge’s traffic diverted to the Midtown Bridge during that time. On October 17, 2013 the Midtown Bridge was shut down for emergency repairs again; Bogota’s Council President and Office of Emergency Management coordinator Tito Jackson had noticed a large separation in the bridge’s metal decking at its joints [3]. The current plan is to replace the aging span with a bridge with a concrete deck. Bergen County is home to a number of bridges in need of major repair or replacement, so there is no timetable for the project as of yet.

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High Bridge

High Bridge walkway, 2015
High Bridge walkway, 2015

Crosses: Harlem River
Connects: Manhattan and the Bronx [satellite map]
Carries: Pedestrian/bike path; formerly carried the Old Croton Aqueduct in its interior
Design: Stone arch bridge with steel arch section
Date opened: 1848
Postcard views: bridgesnyc.com/postcards

The High Bridge, also known as the Aqueduct Bridge, opened in 1848 and is the oldest extant bridge in New York City. The bridge was built to carry the Croton Aqueduct into New York City from upstate New York. It crosses the Harlem River, connecting High Bridge Park in Manhattan with the Bronx near West 170th Street.

Need for Water

Providing a supply of drinking water has long been a problem for the island of Manhattan. Surrounded by brackish water (an undrinkable mixture of salt and fresh water), in its early days, the city got its water from wells, cisterns, and natural springs. However, the city was constantly growing and expanding northward; it grew especially quickly in the years following the Revolutionary War. The limited sources of fresh water available became polluted and diseases such as yellow fever were rampant. The city’s first cholera epidemic began in 1832 and infant mortality soared. The wealthy paid to have their water delivered, but the poor, living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, had no options other than to drink polluted water. In 1832, Colonel DeWitt Clinton, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, proposed building an aqueduct to supply the city with water from the Croton River, north of the city in Westchester County.

High Bridge as originally constructed, ca.1900s
High Bridge as originally constructed, ca.1900s

High or Low

Lettering on stone pier, Bronx, 2009

A temporary water commission was created in 1833 with civil engineer David Bates Douglass appointed as chief engineer to plan for a new water supply. Douglass proposed a high stone arch bridge across the Harlem River as part of his plan to carry water 40 miles from Westchester to the Croton Distributing Reservoir, built between 40th and 42nd Street in Manhattan (a site currently occupied by Bryant Park and New York Public Library’s main branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman building). The Water Commission was formally established in 1834, and more surveys were done, including one by John Martineau, which included a low bridge which would cost less but block more of the river. Martineau’s plan was initially approved in 1835. On December 16 of that same year, the Great Fire of New York began in a Merchant Street warehouse; the city was ill-equipped to fight it and the need for a sufficient water supply was yet again in the headlines. The Board of Water Commissioners, favoring a low bridge, quietly replaced Douglass with John Bloomfield Jervis in 1836; Jervis was well-known as chief engineer of the Erie Canal. Jervis surveyed and planned for the low bridge, but opposition came from the Board of Aldermen in 1838, with the argument that the low bridge would impede navigation on the Harlem River. At the time, the river was already obstructed–Macomb’s Dam to the south and mills in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx were both impassible. Though a decision had yet to be reached, the Water Commission began to build a low bridge across the Harlem River in July, 1838. That work was halted in May, 1939 when the State Legislature stepped in, giving two choices: a high bridge (allowing at least 100 feet of clearance under the bridge) or a tunnel under the river. Jervis drew up plans and construction began in August, 1839.

High Bridge Design

Water pipe inside stone portion of High Bridge, 2009
Water pipe inside stone portion of High Bridge, 2008

The bridge built consisted of 15 circular stone arches and had a clear height of 114 feet at high tide. It was meant to look like Roman aqueducts, though many modern innovations were employed. One was making the piers hollow to lessen dead weight, at the same time allowing water to drain back to the river. An opening gala for the Croton Aqueduct was held on July 4, 1842, and a celebratory parade followed on October 14. All this celebration was somewhat premature in terms of the High Bridge, as it wasn’t fully completed until 1848; temporary pipes carried the water until it was finished. The city continued to grow, as did its water needs. By 1850, the two original 36-inch pipes in the bridge were seen as inadequate, but it took until 1861 to install a third, 90-inch pipe. Between 1866 and 1872, the 200-foot-tall High Bridge Water Tower (also designed by John B. Jervis) and a seven acre reservoir were built to allow water to flow to residents in Manhattan’s higher elevations. It, along with a reservoir Soon, the Croton Aqueduct itself was unable to keep up with the city, and more aqueduct projects were envisioned. The New Croton Aqueduct opened in 1890, followed by the Catskill Aqueduct system, partially opened in 1916 and fully completed by 1924.

Threat of Destruction

Catwalk under steel arch span and water pipe, 2009
Catwalk and water pipe under steel arch span, 2008

World War I brought changes and threats to the High Bridge’s continued existence. On February 3, 1917, the High Bridge Aqueduct was closed. It was feared that wartime saboteurs could destroy the aqueducts and flood the city [1]; since the city already had two newer aqueducts to guard, the Old Croton was shut down so it wouldn’t have to be patrolled. It was eventually put back into service, but was never again seen as necessary. The Harlem River was used extensively for shipping during World War I and the High Bridge’s piers came to be viewed as a hazard–obstructions that had existed during the bridge’s construction, such as Macomb’s Dam, had been dealt with long ago (the dam had been replaced by a swing bridge in 1861). The Army Corps of Engineers ordered the removal of the piers that were in the river, and that turned into a suggestion by the city to simply demolish the bridge altogether. New York City’s citizens as well as numerous professional engineering organizations protested, and debates followed for the next several years. In March of 1923 it was decided that the bridge would be spared so long as a larger channel could be opened for navigation [2]. Plans for a cantilevered arch design were approved by the Municipal Arts Commission in July 1925. A New York Times article stated that, “from a distance, the projected single span will harmonize with the Washington Bridge” [3]. Five of the original arches were replaced with one steel span in 1927 [4]. The replacement steel arch has never evoked the same feelings as the stone arches, as Christopher Gray described in a 2013 New York Times article:

To see the bridge from a distance, the engineering pilgrim can brush by the piers at speed on the north- and southbound Major Deegan Expressway. But a more contemplative view can be had from Depot Place, a tiny stub off Sedgwick Avenue just south of the bridge. There, the granite piers start out from the Bronx shore in perfect majesty, only to be brought to an unseemly halt at the river. [5]

High Bridge and Water Tower, ca. 1984 (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NY-119-10)
High Bridge and Water Tower, ca. 1984 (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NY-119-10)

Closing of the Old Croton Aqueduct

Once both the New Croton Aqueduct and Catskill Aqueduct had been opened, the original Croton Aqueduct essentially became obsolete. The Croton Distributing Reservoir was torn down in the 1890s, but the “Old” Croton Aqueduct was still used to fill the Croton Receiving Reservoir, located in Central Park, until 1940, when Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Robert Moses had it taken out of service. The reservoir was filled and is now Central Park’s Great Lawn.

High Bridge walkway, closed (2009)
High Bridge walkway (closed), 2009

Closing of High Bridge

High Bridge remained open as a pedestrian path, though water had long ceased to flow within it. Rumors abound as to the exact reason for the eventual closure of the path, but a common one is that someone taking a Circle Line cruise up the Harlem River was either hurt or killed by rocks flung from the bridge. A New York Times article from April 21, 1958 states that:

Four passengers on a sightseeing boat were hurt yesterday when a gang of juveniles hurled sticks, stones and large pieces of brick from a bridge as the ship passed below. The bombardment started just as the Circle Line’s excursion boat No. 8 steamed into the shadow of High Bridge on the Harlem River. [6]

Being hit from above on the Harlem River was nothing new; in 1904 a group of oarsmen asked for police protection from “stone-throwing hoodlums who infest the various bridges over the Harlem River” [7]. Regardless of the reason, the pedestrian path was closed in the 1970s. The High Bridge was designated a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970 [8]. It was also made a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1975, and a National Historic Landmark in 1992. Designations aside, the bridge had fallen into a state of disrepair; Sharon Reier lamented in 1977 that “the lofty structure is now fenced off with tangles of barbed wire reminiscent of the Berlin Wall.” [9]


The bridge sat unused for many years, other than by those brave enough to scale its barbed wire fence. Pedestrians crossed the Harlem River on the Washington Bridge several blocks to the north, a busy bridge with a narrow pedestrian lane. In 1995, 10-year-old homeschooled Maaret Klaber attended a community board meeting and asked the park committee to reopen the walkway [10]. It would be a long wait, but in 2006 the Department of Parks and Recreation announced plans to reopen the bridge, though many hurdles still remained before work could begin. Advocacy groups, including the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and the High Bridge Coalition, pushed for its reopening and work began in 2012, based on a 2011 New York City Parks Department plan [11]. The restoration, financed by the city and supplemented by Federal Highway Administration funds, cost over $60 million. The bridge’s stone joints were re-mortared, its brick walkway was cleared of plants and repaired, its cast-iron fencing restored (and 8-foot-high safety netting was added outside of the decorative fencing), new lighting and ramps were added, and its steel arch was repainted. After more than 40 years, the bridge reopened to the public on June 4, 2015.

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Central Railroad of New Jersey Newark Bay Bridge

Newark Bay Bridge piers
Central Railroad of New Jersey Newark Bay Bridge piers, 2015

Crossed: Newark Bay
Connected: Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ [satellite map]
Carried: 4 railroad tracks (Central Railroad of New Jersey)
Design: Vertical lift bridge
Date opened: November 27, 1926
Date demolished: 1980-1988

The Central Railroad of New Jersey Newark Bay Bridge was a two-mile-long vertical lift bridge which consisted of two spans that each carried two railroad tracks. The bridge crossed two shipping channels in Newark Bay and therefore had two lift spans, each with two draws that could be moved independently. The bridge carried both passenger and freight trains.

Previous Bridges

The Central Railroad of New Jersey, also known as the Jersey Central (and often shortened to CNJ), was a railroad that had its beginnings in the 1830s. Originally called the Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad, it connected Elizabethport and Elizabeth, NJ in 1831 before extending outward to Somerville in 1842. It was renamed the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey in 1849, as it continued its expansion by building new track and acquiring other railroads; by 1852 it reached Phillipsburg, on the Delaware River. The first bridge built by the CNJ across Newark Bay was a wooden trestle with a steel swing span that opened on a central pier. It carried two tracks and opened in 1864; this line ended at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, located on the Hudson River waterfront in what is now Liberty State Park in Jersey City (the original 1864 building was replaced in 1889 with the Romanesque structure which still stands).

A double Scherzer Rolling Lift bridge replaced a swing bridge in 1904. (Source: Engineering-News Record, Vol. 49, No. 9)
A double Scherzer Rolling Lift bridge replaced the 1864 swing bridge in 1904. (Source: Engineering-News Record, Vol. 49, No. 9)

In 1903, work was begun on a replacement for the wooden bridge. Maritime traffic had increased steadily, and the volume and size of the trains crossing the bridge had also grown. The swing span had to open frequently and the CNJ also wanted to plan for an expansion of the crossing from two tracks to four. The design selected consisted of two Scherzer Rolling Lift spans; a key advantage over the swing bridge was that the bridge would not need to open fully to allow passage of barges and other low ships. The two-track sections could be expanded to four by building an additional span with identical Scherzer Rolling Lifts next to the existing spans. The west leaf of the movable span was floated into place on February 14, 1904 [1] and followed by the east leaf a few months later. The new span was seen as a vast improvement over the wooden trestle.

From Newark Meadows to Port Newark

However, the character of Newark Bay continued to change. The city of Newark began dredging the shallow Newark Meadows during the 1910s to create an additional shipping channel, which later became Port Newark (it is now known as the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal). During World War I the U.S. government used Port Newark to station troops. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was formed in 1921 and was followed by the Rivers and Harbors Acts of 1922, which authorized the creation of even more shipping channels. As the crossing closest to the new facilities and the longest crossing, the bridge came to be seen as a huge obstruction to the growing port [2]. Authorities in Newark were in favor of demolishing the bridge altogether and replacing it with a tunnel (which wouldn’t obstruct marine traffic at all). Cost was an issue; a tunnel was estimated at $100 million whereas a replacement bridge would cost $9 million. Proposed by the CNJ in 1922, the replacement bridge, of a vertical lift design, would have two spans (200 feet and 125 feet wide) that would raise for a maximum clearance of 135 feet above the water; they would replace the Scherzer spans which were 85 feet wide each. U.S. Secretary of War John W. Weeks decided in favor of a vertical lift bridge in December of 1922 [3]. However, that was not the end of opposition to the bridge. In November, 1924 a case was brought to the Supreme Court against the CNJ by the state of New Jersey (led by Newark and Jersey City), questioning the right of a railroad to build across a state’s navigable waters [4]. On March 2, 1925 the Supreme Court decided in favor of the railroad [5] and plans to replace the bridge moved forward.

Vertical Lift Bridge

Vertical lift draws in the open position, looking north (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NJ-37-42)
Vertical lift draws in the open position, looking north (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NJ-37-42)

The Central Railroad of New Jersey sped construction of the new bridge as soon as approval had been granted. The bridge’s designer was John Alexander Low Waddell, a civil engineer well known for his vertical lift bridges. Waddell had moved to New York City in 1920 and was towards the end of a bridge-building career that had begun with a lift bridge in Chicago in 1892-3. The bridge was “believed to be the world’s longest drawbridge” [6]; the bridge’s Chief Engineer Arthur E. Owen declared it to be “the largest drawbridge assembly in the world” [7]. While neither claim was ever definitively proven, it would be hard to argue that the bridge was not impressive. The new spans carried four tracks over Newark Bay; the two shipping channels were crossed by double vertical lift spans that each operated separately from one another. The main difference in the functionality of the new bridge was that its height in the closed position was a minimum of 35 feet above the water, so while the Scherzer Rolling Lift improved upon the previous swing in that it only had to open partially for barges, the new bridge spans only had to open at all for taller ships (allowing the passage of many vessels at all times).

The new Central Railroad of New Jersey Newark Bay Bridge was formally opened on November 27, 1926. It had cost roughly $14 million (far higher than the original $9 million estimate several years earlier). The inaugural train riders included twenty-two “veteran” commuters of the line, most notably a resident of Elizabeth named K.S. Kiggins, who had also attended the first bridge opening in 1864 [8]. New Jersey governor Harry A. Moore, several New Jersey mayors, CNJ president Roy B. White, and many holding high positions at various other railroads were also in attendance. In 1927, W.C. Hope, the passenger traffic manager of the CNJ, released statistics stating the the new bridge had allowed 60% of all marine traffic to pass below it without opening, a steep decline in openings compared to the older bridge [9].


At 10am on September 15, 1958, a CNJ commuter train heading towards Bayonne from Bay Head plunged off the south span, which was partially lifted, and into Newark Bay. The train had proceeded past three stop signals; evidence of mechanical failure was never found and it was believed that the engineer had suffered a heart attack. After a dramatic rescue and recovery effort over the next several days, it was declared that 48 people had died in the tragedy–45 passengers and three crew members. Notable among the dead were former second baseman for the Yankees George (Snuffy) Stirnweiss and John Hawkins, the mayor of Shrewsbury, NJ. Later in 1958, the CNJ announced it would be adding new safety measures: automatic trippers would bring rogue trains to a stop if they ignored stop signals (by using a derail system), and “dead-man” controls would stop trains if the operator released the throttle [10].

Abandonment and Demolition

Deck of vertical lift span (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NJ-37-16)
Deck of vertical lift span (Source: Historic American Engineering Record, NJ-37-16)

The bridge was in for more trouble, however. On a very foggy May 19, 1966, the French freighter S.S. Washington hit the northeast vertical lift span, rendering the two tracks it carried unusable. Furthermore, he overall decline of the railroads was taking its toll on the CNJ; overall ridership was down and in May 1967 the Aldene Plan went into effect. It rerouted CNJ trains departing from Aldene (in Roselle Park, NJ) to Newark rather than over the Newark Bay Bridge. This meant that the only passenger service over the bridge was a shuttle running from Bayonne to Cranford; nicknamed the “Scoot,” its service was very limited. In light of these changes, the damaged span was never repaired.

Use of the bridge continued its steady decline. By the 1970s, CNJ had moved the rest of their freight operation to Elizabeth and only two freight trains a day crossed the span.The Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) took over the operations of the Central Railroad of New Jersey on April 1, 1976 and moved all freight operations to the Pennsylvania Railroad Newark Bay Bridge, north of the CNJ span. The last passenger train crossed the bridge was on August 6, 1978.

The abandoned bridge was deemed a hazard to navigation and an attempt was made to save the bridge by the City of Bayonne. The city was unsuccessful, and on July 11, 1980 explosives were used to partially demolish the bridge. The vertical lift spans and towers fell, engulfed in smoke. The approaches and remaining trestles were removed in 1987-1988, leaving only portions of the piers along the shorelines as visual reminders of the structure that once crossed the bay. The Bayonne Historical Society held a memorial for victims of the commuter train crash in 2008, 50 years after the accident, but other than that the bridge has been largely forgotten. Some remaining portions of the bridge were blasted away as recently as February, 2012 [11]. On the Bayonne waterfront, cormorants and seagulls can be seen roosting on the few crumbling piers that still extend into Newark Bay today.

CRRNJ Newark Bay Bridge piers, 2015
Central Railroad of New Jersey Newark Bay Bridge piers, 2015

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Branch Brook Park Subway Bridges

Subway 1, East (East Arch)
Subway 1, East (East Arch)
Subway 2, West (West Arch)
Subway 2, West (West Arch)

Location: Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: Arch bridge
Date opened: 1900
Postcard view: “Branch Brook Park West Arch Bridge”

Essex County, New Jersey is home to twenty Olmsted parks–those designed by firms headed by members of the prominent Olmsted family: Frederick Law Olmsted Senior or his nephew/stepson John Charles Olmsted and son Frederick Law Olmsted Junior [1]. The largest of New Jersey’s Olmsted parks is Branch Brook Park in Newark.

In 1867, after the New Jersey State legislature authorized the creation of a Newark Park Commission, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. of Central Park fame recommended a site in Newark which would eventually become Branch Brook Park. Sixty acres of land were set aside for park use; Olmsted along with his partner Calvert Vaux planned for the park to be a “central park” for the City of Newark. In 1895 the Essex County Parks Commission was created, making Branch Brook Park the first public county park opened in the United States. Initially John Bogart and Nathan Barrett designed the park, and work on it began in 1896. However, the Parks Commission became dissatisfied with the romantic garden-inspired design and instead hired the Olmsted Brothers firm of John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in 1898 to finish the park with a more naturalistic look. It was sixty acres large at its start, but over time has grown to nearly 360 acres; much of area was donated by prominent local families.

The park is home to many architecturally significant structures, including bridges, buildings, gates, and sculptures. Many of these were designed by the beaux-arts architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings headed by John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings. The pair designed two Subway Bridges now referred to as Subway 1, East and Subway 2, West. They were included in the initial Barrett and Bogart plan for the park but were redesigned and moved when the Olmsted Brothers took over; they were originally called the East Arch and West Arch. Both bridges have undergone rehabilitation work to remove graffiti, repair masonry, and remove vegetation where it is harmful to the structure.

Subway 1, East

The East Arch was designed by Carrere & Hastings 1898 and constructed between 1989 and 1900. It is located on the eastern side of the Branch Brook Lake and was designed to help pedestrians avoid traffic on the park’s main thoroughfares, at the time used mainly by horses and carriages. An unpaved path passes under the granite bridge (hence the later naming of “subway”). The bridge is a stone arch design with a rustic granite masonry facing. Its railings are large granite blocks and its barrel-vaulted interior is lined with yellow bricks.

Subway 2, West

The West Arch is similar in design to the East Arch and was designed and built at the same time. The West Arch underpass was was at some point referred to as “Lovers’ Lane,” as seen in a ca.1911 postcard. However, it suffered more over the years than its counterpart in the east from neglect and vandalism–much more vegetation had infiltrated the structure and mineral deposits had formed within the arch to the point that stalactites hung from the ceiling; portions of the brick had fallen out entirely. The underpass is currently sealed off, so it is only possible to walk over, not under, Subway 2.

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Passaic Street Bridge, Lodi

Passaic Street Bridge
Passaic Street Bridge

Crosses: Saddle River
Location: Carries Passaic Street over the Saddle River in Lodi, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: Through-girder bridge
Date opened: 1903

The Passaic Street Bridge carries Passaic Street (which becomes Passaic Avenue and feeds into Main Street) across the Saddle River in Lodi, New Jersey. It was built by the American Bridge Company in 1903. It is a through-girder bridge that rests on stone abutments. In 1939 (and again in 1971), the girders underwent repairs and welded plates were added to strengthen them. Also in 1971, much of the original concrete encasement on the floorbeams was removed and a metal deck was installed. Some of the original metal railing remains on the span, and one partially-broken plaque gives information on the bridge’s construction. New Jersey’s 2002 Bridge Survey notes that the bridge is one of more than 20 of its type in the state, and due to the construction on it over the years, “the altered span has lost its visual integrity and it is not distinguished.” [1]

Bridge plaque

Though the bridge may not be unique in its construction, it is of a type that is frequently replaced with more modern spans, and over its 110-plus years in existence it has been witness to much change in Lodi.

Industry on the Saddle River

The town of Lodi has existed in some form since Revolutionary times, and the township of Lodi was organized in 1825, taking  its name from a town in Italy. The Saddle River was important to the growth of the town into a manufacturing center. By the late 1800’s, the river provided the power to two grist- and saw-mills, a bleaching and dyeing factory called United Piece Dye Works, and the Lodi Chemical Works. [2]

The borough of Lodi was incorporated in 1894 out of Lodi Township and Saddle River Township, during New Jersey’s period of “Borough Fever” of the late nineteenth century. Starting in 1894, New Jersey allowed new boroughs to be formed by petition, rather than as a special act of the state legislature. Bergen County took particular advantage of this–56 out of 70 total municipalities in the county are now boroughs.

United Piece Dye Works

The late 1890’s saw an influx of immigrants, mainly from Italy, coming to Lodi to work at the United Piece Dye Works. The factory was  just upstream from the current location of the Passaic Street Bridge on the Saddle River. The dye made there became a part of the landscape. Anthony Taormina, who was born in Lodi in 1954 and went on to become the director of its library from 1986 until his retirement in 2011, described the Dye Works’ effect on the the river:

“I remember my mother telling me about walking over the Passaic Street bridge on her way to school, looking at the different chemical colors coming down the Saddle River. One day it would be green, one day it would be blue, depending on what color they were dying that day.” [3]

Chemical Manufacturing

Plaque in Lodi Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the Napp Technologies explosion
Plaque in Lodi Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the Napp Technologies explosion

During the Great Depression, much of the textile business that had been in and around Passaic, NJ  moved south in order to cut labor costs. United Dye Works closed in the 1950’s and soon chemical manufacturers moved into the town.

An explosion tore the roof off a building at the B.L. Lemke Company in April of 1969, killing one person and wounding six. In August of 1973, an explosion at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company killed seven employees. After that incident, the town cracked down somewhat on the industry: it prohibited new chemical companies from moving in and prevented the existing ones from expanding further.

B.L. Lemke later became Napp-Lemke Chemicals, and later still Napp Technologies. In April of 1995 another explosion rocked the complex, killing five and injuring seven. Approximately 400 residents of Lodi were evacuated. The Saddle River turned a fluorescent green color from the chemically contaminated water runoff generated by firefighting efforts at the plant.

Lodi’s problems with chemicals weren’t limited to explosions. The town once got its water from natural wells, run by the Lodi Water Works. In 1983, they were shut down after it was discovered that they had been contaminated by thorium, a radioactive chemical made in Lodi by another chemical company. Water has been piped in from elsewhere ever since.

Legislation introduced after the Napp Technologies explosion prevented the company from reopening in Lodi. The area it once occupied now is parkland and a shopping area.


The Saddle River has flooded many times over the years. In March 1902 the water rose 14 inches above the previous bridge. Though no information has been found to support this, it can be speculated that the bridge was replaced in 1903 because of damage done during the 1902 flood (this was the case with many bridges over the nearby Passaic River). An even larger flood occurred in October of 1913: the Saddle River reached a height of six-and-a-half feet above the bridge [4]. Floods continue today and local officials have attempted to pass legislation which would allow for dredging of the river, but the estimated cost of $100 million has held the project back [5].

replacement metal deck
Replacement metal deck

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Mill Creek Footbridge

Replacement Mill Creek Footbridge, 2013
Replacement Mill Creek Footbridge, 2013

Crosses: Mill Creek
Connects: Jersey Avenue and Liberty State Park, Jersey City [satellite map]
Carries: Pedestrian/cyclist sidewalk
Design: Arch bridge
Date opened: May 23, 2013

The Mill Creek Footbridge connects Jersey Avenue in downtown Jersey City, NJ with Philip Street in Liberty State Park. The current bridge replaced an older structure that was destroyed on October 29, 2012, during Hurricane Sandy. Mill Creek feeds into the Morris Canal Basin (now used as a marina) and then the Hudson River.

Original Bridge

Little information is available about the original bridge. Taking into account that maps may be inaccurate, it appears that a Jersey Avenue road bridge crossing Mill Creek was built sometime between 1874 and 1889. A railroad bridge running parallel to it was constructed by 1904. The railroad trestle carried both the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Both lines terminated before crossing the Morris Canal to the north (the canal was located just south of Grand Street). The road portion was demolished at some point between 1928 and 1955. Following the decline of the railroads in Jersey City, the trestle was abandoned and the bridge was converted into a footbridge sometime thereafter. The Jersey Journal notes that city officials do not know exactly when the bridge became a footbridge, and Sam Pesin (president of the group Friends of Liberty State Park) thinks it was there when the park opened in 1976 [1].

Original Mill Creek Bridge, 2010
Original Mill Creek Bridge, 2010

The Jersey Avenue Extension

Various proposals have been made over the last twenty years or so to extend Jersey Avenue over Mill Creek, connecting Downtown with Liberty State Park, as well as providing additional access to the New Jersey Turnpike. The city applied for an $18.4 million federal grant in 2011 to fund the extension. The proposal argues that the extension would ease traffic in the nearby Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood. However, it has also sparked debate among residents over how much local streets would be impacted by cars exiting the Turnpike to avoid traffic at the Holland Tunnel; cars cutting through local Downtown streets have long been an issue. The proposal acknowledges this and tries to defend its position:

The city is also mindful that this new direct connection could be perceived as a short cut for out-of-town commuters by using the 1.2-mile corridor between New Jersey Turnpike Exit 14B and Grand Street to access Jersey City’s central business district or the Holland Tunnel. This corridor traverses Liberty State Park and residential development areas. To achieve the overall goal of improved connectivity and access without increasing traffic speeds and/or inducing additional traffic through the environmentally sensitive park areas or future residential neighborhoods, a series of modern roundabouts are proposed in the park segments and a more pedestrian friendly “complete street” is proposed in the northern segment of dense urban development. [2]

The city was not given the grant and the footbridge was destroyed the following October during Sandy. Initially, it was speculated that the city would not replace the footbridge at all, in hopes that it would be able to begin construction on the Jersey Avenue Extension, which would include a pedestrian pathway. However, it was decided that the footbridge would be replaced (a widely-held suspicion is that it was given priority because 2013 is an election year). In March of 2013, Jersey City was awarded $500,000 by the federal government to do a feasibility study for a road extension; that proposed bridge would run parallel to the new footbridge, which was set to open by Memorial Day weekend.

Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012
Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012
Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012
Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012

The new Mill Creek Footbridge was delivered on May 1 and opened on May 23rd. It is a prefabricated arch bridge that is painted white; it has a somewhat higher clearance over the creek than its predecessor. It was scheduled to cost about $750,000 and wound up costing about $800,000. Jersey City has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which could reimburse the city for most of the cost of the bridge. It is officially called the Ethel Pesin Liberty Bridge, in honor of a founding trustee of Friends of Liberty State Park (and wife of Sam Pesin). She died in February, 2013, at age 98.

Original walkway, 2010 (left); Replacement walkway, 2013 (right)
Original walkway, 2010 (left); Replacement walkway, 2013 (right)

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South Front Street Bridge

South Front Street Bridge in open position
South Front Street Bridge in open position

Crosses: Elizabeth River
Location: Carries South Front Street over the Elizabeth River near its outlet into the Arthur Kill, Elizabeth, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 1 vehicular lane, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: Strauss heel trunnion bascule bridge
Date opened: 1922

The South Front Street Bridge is located just before the Elizabeth River opens up into the Arthur Kill, along the waterfront in Elizabeth, NJ.

Plans for a movable bridge at South Front Street were approved on July 3, 1916 by the Secretary of War. A riparian grant (a deed granted for normally state-owned tidelands) was obtained for $260 from the state of New Jersey in 1917, officially allowing the bridge to be constructed by the City of Elizabeth. The American Bridge Company built the bridge, beginning in 1920; it opened to traffic in 1922.


The South Front Street Bridge is a Strauss trunnion bascule bridge; it was designed by the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, headed by Joseph Strauss in Chicago. Strauss patented the Strauss bascule design of the trunnion type, which open on a fixed axle. The South Front Street Bridge is a heel trunnion, which is a variation on the design, and is the only remaining road-carrying bridge of its type in New Jersey (though there are still several heel trunnion railroad bridges in the state). The heel truss has the advantage of taking up less space than traditional bascule designs, thus requiring less construction material.

The bridge is skewed, so its trusses are of different lengths: 131’ 8” on the west side and 116’5” on the east. The bridge’s substructure and massive counterweight are made of concrete, which has undergone repairs several times. A small brick bridge house is located adjacent to the bridge; inside are the controls. The machinery which operates the bridge is on the bridge above the road; it consists of original gears and electric motors which were added in 1940.

The bridge was originally built with a wooden roadway, but it was replaced with a steel deck in 1956. The pedestrian walkway is still constructed of wood, though not the original wood deck. The bridge underwent significant repairs in 1976.

bridge deck
View from the bridge deck; the Chemical Control site is to the left.

The Elizabeth River’s Decline

The Elizabeth River was once home to six movable bridges, to accommodate its heavy use by ocean-going vessels. However, shipping on the river came to an end soon after the the 1951 opening of the New Jersey Turnpike. The U.S. Corps of Engineers deemed that three of the movable bridges would become fixed later in the 1950s. Another of the six (the Baltic Street Bridge) had been left isolated by the Turnpike construction, and it was sold for scrap in 1954. The South First Street Bridge, built in 1908, suffered a fire in the bridge tender’s house in 1984. With its control center gone, it permanently remained closed. The bridge was replaced completely in 2010. This leaves the South Front Street bridge as the only remaining operational drawbridge in all of Union County.

Only a few hundred feet of the Elizabeth River are still navigable, so the waterway only sees vessels designed for recreation, not industry. Still, a 2003 publication about Elizabeth estimated that the bridge was opened an average of 2,000 times a year [1].

Contamination Next Door

The bridge sits adjacent to the former site of the Chemical Control Corporation, a notorious part of New Jersey’s history with chemical dumping. The property, bordering on the southeastern end of the bridge, was originally marshland, but was filled in when Elizabeth developed much of its land for industrial use during the latter half of the 19th century. The Chemical Control Corporation was in operation from 1970 to 1978 as a disposal facility for hazardous waste. The company, which began as a legitimate business, became more notable for its practice of disposing of waste illegally, and was cited repeatedly until the state forced it to close in March of 1979.

concrete counterweight
concrete counterweight

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection began cleanup at the site shortly after; about 400,000 gallons of bulk solids and liquids, infectious and radioactive waste, and explosive liquids were removed. In May, upon hearing that the cleanup had uncovered nitroglycerin and other potential explosives, Elizabeth’s mayor Thomas G. Dunn declared a state of emergency in the area a half mile around the site, restricting pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The cleanup and restrictions were fortunate, because on April 21, 1980 there was an explosion at Chemical Control which led to a fire of spectacular proportions: drums of waste were launched into the air and exploded over the Arthur Kill; it took 10 hours to get the blaze under control but firefighters spent weeks at the site. NJDEP continued its cleanup and investigations after the fire; unfortunately, many of the records of which companies were connected to which hazardous materials were stored on-site and therefore lost.

In October 1981, it was proposed that the Chemical Control site be included on the National Priorities List of Superfund sites; its inclusion was finalized in September 1983. Cleanup continued, and a 1985-6 study found that contaminants including PCBs, naphalene, and benzene were still present in the soil, groundwater, and surface water. A slurry wall was later constructed around the site and anchored into a layer of clay under it; this helped stop groundwater contamination. A 2003 study of the site found that in general the contaminants which were contained during the cleanup remain contained, though it was noted that small area around the site may still be somewhat contaminated (one of three sampling stations still showed high levels of vinyl chloride and 2-butanone [2]).


The Bridge’s Future

In 2008, it was announced that the New Jersey Department of Transportation would supply $330,000 to repair the bridge. Work was done to reinforce the deck. The city was granted a further $1,000,000 in 2010 for more rehabilitation work. However, due to ongoing structural concerns, the bridge has been left in the open position since March 4, 2011; traffic is rerouted to the new South First Street Bridge. A study is underway to determine whether the bridge can be rehabilitated or not. The bridge remains eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

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Monroe Street Bridge

Monroe Street Bridge
Monroe Street Bridge

Crosses: Passaic River
Location: Monroe Street connecting Passaic and Garfield, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: arch bridge
Date opened: June 13, 1908
Postcard view: “Monroe Street Bridge, Passaic, N.J.”

The Monroe Street Bridge is a reinforced concrete arch bridge over the Passaic River in New Jersey, connecting the towns of Passaic and Garfield.

Gilbert D. Bogart & East Passaic

In early 1873, Gilbert D. Bogart set out to develop a suburb to the town of Passaic, which he called East Passaic. He and his associates formed the East Passaic Land Company and bought property along the Passaic River from Monroe Street to Van Winkle Avenue. His company was responsible for the first development in the area. In 1875, a bridge across the Passaic was built at Monroe Street by Joseph Scott, and seven houses were also constructed. However, the financial panic of 1873 brought Bogart’s project to a grinding halt. Lots on the land acquired by the East Passaic Land Company could not be sold even at greatly reduced prices. The company suffered heavy losses and years passed without any sign of recovery.

On December 8, 1878, Scott’s Monroe Street Bridge was washed away when the Passaic River overflowed its banks. In 1881, the Bergen County Short Cut (a branch of the Erie Railroad) was laid along Monroe street, and a rail bridge was built to Passaic (next to where the washed-out bridge had been); a station was created and named after President Garfield.

Rail bridge next to the Monroe Street Bridge
Rail bridge next to the Monroe Street Bridge

Things still were not improving for Bogart’s company, and in 1882 it sold all its land under foreclosure to the Garfield Land Association. The name “East Passaic” had become associated with failure and the town adopted the name of Garfield instead. The land was sold as individual lots by the Garfield Land Association with the remainder going to the newly formed Monroe Street Bridge Land Company, which built a replacement bridge shortly after.

The Current Bridge

The bridge currently crossing Monroe Street was built in 1908 by the C.W. Dean Company of New York. The plans for the bridge had been put together by F.R. Long Company Engineers and Contractors in August of 1907. It is a three-span, 306-foot long deck arch bridge on a concrete and stone substructure. The bridge is made up of three equal elliptical arch spans. It originally featured a decorative railing with vase-shaped balusters. The bridge was important to the industrial and commercial development of both Passaic and Garfield, and is the only existing pre-World War II multi-span concrete arch bridge remaining in the United States.

The Monroe Street Bridge opened on June 13, 1908. A parade was held and Mayor John Karl of Garfield and Mayor Frederick R. Low of Passaic met to officially open the bridge to the public. A celebration was held in a nearby park afterward.


The Monroe Street Bridge has been repaired extensively over the years. In 1947 guide rail was added to the curbs, and new concrete curbs followed in 1948. Many repairs to the substructure were made using gunite (a dry form of shotcrete) in 1949. Large parts of the balustrades were missing or badly damaged, and they were replaced by a more utilitarian railing sometime after Bergen County did a survey the bridge in the early 1980s. New Jersey’s 2002 survey of the bridge deemed that it had lost much of its “visual integrity” due to the nature of the gunite repairs [1].

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Marine Parkway Bridge

Marine Parkway Bridge
Marine Parkway Bridge

Crosses: Rockaway Inlet in Jamaica Bay
Connects: Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn and the Rockaways, Queens, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 4 vehicular lanes, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: vertical lift bridge
Date opened: July 3, 1937
Postcard view: “Marine Parkway Bridge, Brooklyn, N.Y.”

The Marine Parkway Bridge (also known as the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge) is a vertical lift bridge which connects Flatbush Avenue at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn with Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden in the Rockways in Queens.

Plans for a New Bridge: Robert Moses & The Marine Parkway Authority

Fiorello LaGuardia was narrowly elected Mayor of New York City in 1933; he would serve three terms from 1934 to 1945. LaGuardia was impressed by the parkways Robert Moses had built in Long Island (and by his ability to raise federal funds to finance them), and he immediately offered him a job in his administration. Moses had plans for parkways and parks in New York City ready to go, and he only agreed to take the job from LaGuardia if he would have control of the parks departments in all five boroughs, which had previously been independent of one another. Moses also wanted control of the parkways; LaGuardia agreed. Moses quickly took over the the Triborough Bridge Authority; that bridge’s construction had begun in 1929 but had stalled and remained incomplete. He also introduced a plan to finance construction of the Marine Parkway Bridge that called for the creation of the Marine Parkway Authority, of which, of course, Moses would be chairman and sole member. He raised money for these and other projects (which would charge tolls when they opened) by issuing bonds; when a project was complete, he would not sell off the bonds but would begin another toll-collecting project, continuing the cycle.


Moses issued $6,000,000 in bonds in order to build the Marine Parkway Bridge, and it was expected that within 25 years, through toll collection the bridge would pay for the loan and allow the bridge to be self-sustaining. However, there was plenty of opposition to the bridge proposal. The surrounding communities had been served by ferries and many people did not want to see that change. There were others who felt that Jamaica Bay might one day become a major port and the building of a bridge would destroy that potential. So, more than $18 million was spent by the U.S. War Department to dredge Rockaway Inlet and the bridge was designed to be a lift span, to enable the channel to remain clear for ship traffic. There was also the issue of ice: it was feared that ice would pile up on the bridge piers and either block passage or cause the surrounding areas to flood, sweeping cottages along Rockaway Beach out to sea. The solution was to bring in a forest of 600-foot-tall Douglas fir trees from the west coast to be driven into the sand and act as fenders against the ice around the bridge’s piers.

Marine Parkway Bridge, seen from Floyd Bennett Field
Marine Parkway Bridge, seen from Floyd Bennett Field

The Barren Island Squatters

Another problem encountered before construction of the bridge could begin was a well-established colony of squatters living on what formerly was known as Barren Island. Barren Island was a roughly three mile long and one mile wide stretch in the southern Brooklyn section of Jamaica Bay. In the late 1800s, the land at either end of the island the island was home to several putrid-smelling industries including fish, fat, and offal rendering plants and another that rendered horse bones into glue, leading to the the body of water on the island’s western shore’s name: Dead Horse Bay. About 120 acres in the center of the island was owned by the city, intended to be used as a dumping ground. However, due to the city’s neglect, the land was taken over by a colony of squatters, who by 1877 numbered around 100. The squatters kept livestock such as goats and pigs, and even set up a liquor saloon on the island. The stench of the rendering plants grew worse and worse, and after years of complaints from Brooklyn residents, the plants were required to dump their refuse at sea. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the situation in 1899 as being “improved:”

Nowadays the ancient cheeses, the butchers’ offal, the long-deceased animals, the contents of refuse cans and barrels are not piled along the waterfront… On the contrary, the process is quick and thorough. Deodorizing substances are freely used in the materials that are disgorged from New York’s thousands of kitchens and butcher shops. The sufferings that are reported in various parts of Brooklyn and along the south shore probably result in larger measure than the people realize from the dumping which is still carried on at sea, the scows going out six or eight miles, instead of the required forty, and throwing overboard tons of swill that the incoming tide washes upon the shored of Coney Island, Rockaway and even Long Beach. This vile stuff festers in the sun, sours and breeds maggots and flies by millions. [1]

Despite many attempts over the years to remove the squatters, they stayed put. Barren Island was connected to the Brooklyn mainland with landfill during the construction of Floyd Bennett Field (New York City’s first municipal airport), which opened in 1931. By then the rendering plants were long gone, but the squatters still remained. In 1936, Robert Moses, as Park Commissioner, called for their eviction; at that time there were an estimated 90 squatters (and their livestock) still living on the former island. They were given until April 15, 1936 to vacate, and Alderman Joseph B. Whitty of Brooklyn was granted a promise by Mayor LaGuardia that the houses on the island would be treated as “condemned tenements” [2], so that the squatters would be provided with free moving service as they left the island. In August of the same year, five acres of marijuana plants were discovered on the island, upon which the goats the squatters had kept had been grazing. The squatters, when questioned, denied that there was any other intended use for the plants.


Moses the planner had engineers ready to work on the Marine Parkway Bridge. The chief engineer on the project was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate Emil H. Praeger (who worked on numerous projects for the Parks system and went on to design the Tappan Zee Bridge). The firm of Madigan-Hyland were also involved as engineers. Robinson & Steinman were hired as consultants; Holton D. Robinson was the engineer of the Williamsburg Bridge and David Steinman designed the Henry Hudson Bridge as his thesis while at Columbia University. The title of Engineering Designer was filled by the esteemed Waddell & Hardesty, formed in 1927. Also both Rensselaer graduates, the firm of J.A.L. Waddell and Shortridge Hardesty was known for its movable bridge designs, especially vertical lift spans. The contractors awarded the bids for construction of the bridge were the Frederic Snare Corporation and the American Bridge Company.

Construction & Design

Construction began on June 1, 1936. A method differing from usual lift bridge construction was used, where instead of floating the lift span in at the very end, it was placed partway through, planned to coincide with a particularly high tide. Just after midnight on January 12, 1937, 38 workmen from the American Bridge Company began the operation; tugboats guided the central span along and at 7:45 a.m., while the tide was at its highest, it was placed into position. The partially built towers had a special trestle attached to their foundations from which the towers would be completed.

The bridge is designed of three main 540-foot spans, each allowing for a 500-foot clear channel. There are two 1,061-foot approaches; its total length is 4,022 feet, 6 inches. The 2,000-ton central span could be raised from 50 feet to a total clearance of 150 feet above the high water mark in two minutes. When it was completed it was the longest highway lift bridge in the world (it is still the longest of its type in North America), built of 12,000 tons of steel and 47,000 cubic yards of concrete. The bridge was painted olive green with silver trim. The roadway, instead of being solid, was built of steel plates, similar to subway gratings set in sidewalks throughout the city. It was the first roadway of this type to be used on a bridge on the East Coast. The open grates were also painted green.

One complaint about vertical lift bridges at the time was that their appearance could be ugly; often they were employed by railroads and were decidedly utilitarian in design. In response to this, the towers of the Marine Parkway Bridge were tapered and a pattern designed to hint at the great wheels that lifted the bridge rather than hiding them [3]. Construction was finished less than a year after it began, and the bridge was scheduled to open in July, in time for motorists to enjoy the summer in the new Jacob Riis Park.

Marine Parkway Bridge from Rockaway
Marine Parkway Bridge from Rockaway

Opening Ceremony

The bridge officially opened on July 3, 1937. The ceremony was headed by Mayor LaGuardia who was joined by Park Commissioner Robert Moses and various other city officials. 500 cars full of invited guests waited on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, on the approach built on Barren Island. Guns were fired from Fort Tilden, fireboats sprayed water into the air, and nine Martin planes flew in formation overhead. The center span was lowered for traffic and at 10:30 a.m. a parade of cars began to cross the bridge to Jacob Riis Park, where Moses gave a speech detailing the planning that had led up to the building of the bridge. It was given recognition in the engineering world as well: The National Steel Bridge Alliance awarded it first place in the movable bridge category in 1937.

Renaming & Rehabilitation

The bridge was renamed in 1978 in honor of Gil Hodges, a former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman, though the name has not taken into common usage [4]. The Marine Parkway Authority was absorbed into the larger Triborough Bridge Authority in 1940 (becoming he Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1946). Traffic and toll collection on the Marine Parkway Bridge did not turn out to be enough to pay for its own expenses, but other bridges and tunnels run by the TBTA were profitable enough to carry those that were less so. The TBTA is now under the jurisdiction of the MTA, who began a major rehabilitation project on the bridge in 1998. The steel deck was replaced with concrete and steel, a “Jersey” barrier was added to separate traffic, electrical systems and traffic control were updated, and new signs were put in place. The $120 million project was finished in 2004; the bridge still opens more than 100 times a year.

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